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Legatus Magazine

Cover Story
Brian Engelland | author
Mar 01, 2018
Filed under Ethics
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Virtuous leadership is key to energizing workforce

According to Gallup’s World Poll, many people hate their job and especially their boss. Only 15 percent of employees worldwide are enthusiastically engaged in their work – the rest would rather be doing something else. If we could successfully engage the remaining 85 percent, imagine how much more effective businesses would be.

Brian Engelland

Here’s the problem. Bosses often treat employees as a cog in the wheel of production rather than as unique human beings created in the image of God. Bosses mistakenly look past the individual person and instead look at the job he or she is performing rather than the incredible potential that the employee can offer. Employees respond to this myopic view by giving minimal physical effort while parking their minds and hearts elsewhere.

But people, not equipment, are the lifeblood of any business. Some time ago, my company invested in an expensive state-of-the-art production line. We treated that equipment with great care, established shop rules and procedures for its protection, and doubled our maintenance efforts to keep it operating in pristine condition. That machinery was accorded better treatment than any employee! But in just three years, it was obsolete, and sold for scrap at the junkyard.

As Saint John Paul II taught, the worker is significantly more important than capital, and human labor is not merely one factor in production. The great untapped source of economic growth is not physical capital, but human capital leveraged by the creativity and dedication that workers can bring to work each day. Unlike capital equipment, employees can adapt to changing conditions and, through training, be continually refreshed. People really do count.

So, how can we reflect that difference in our businesses? Virtuous leadership has the ability to bring out the greatness in others. The secret to obtaining the faithful collaboration of employees is for the boss to exemplify the two most important leadership virtues, magnanimity and humility. Magnanimity is the realization that individual talents are a gift from God and are only valuable when they are used to help others become better at what they do. Humility is the conviction that everyone is important and Christ is present in the least of us.

Virtuous leadership creates enthusiastic followers. The teachings of Pope Paul VI explain why. When employees perceive that the boss is offering the opportunity to help them perfect their own individual capacities, to engage in work that is both useful and profitable, and to contribute according to their abilities to the service of the company, they respond favorably. Employees feel compelled to adopt some of the boss’s same energizing spirit.

A restaurant run by my “bring out employee greatness” friend doesn’t open on Sundays. Why? He explains that his restaurant concept requires a high degree of personal service, and that means hiring and retaining good employees. But none of his really good employees want to work on Sundays – they’d rather spend quality time at home with their families. By implementing his “closed-on-Sunday” policy, he helps bring out the greatness in his staff. His employees are happier, his service quality is higher, and his training and retention costs are lower than his 7-day-per week competition.

A boss who exemplifies magnanimity and humility can help employees understand that work is an essential expression of our human nature as created in the image and likeness of God. Be that virtuous boss! Understand the potential of each employee, and help each one reach their potential. Help them learn new skills, gain insights, make friends, enhance self-esteem, and become more than they were before the work began. Employees who experience this type of boss will engage, and become the outstanding workforce we all desire.

BRIAN ENGELLAND is the Pryzbyla chair of business and economics in the Busch School of Business and Economics at The Catholic University of America. His latest book is Force for Good: The Catholic Guide to Business Integrity, published by Sophia Institute Press.

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